TORONTO – Standing just a few steps from the ice, a pace or two away from the Marlies dressing room, Ben Scrivens is explaining the intricate wiring of his thought process.
He's only a few months removed from a bold 2011-2012 campaign which saw him post microscopic, league-leading numbers en route to a surprising berth in the Calder Cup final. With those weighty accomplishments however come expectation and this fall the sizeable expectations are nothing less than a repeat of last season. He's on the cusp of a job in the NHL, but with that league locked out and looking hopeless, he's got no choice but to raise the bar at Ricoh Coliseum and beyond that in Syracuse, Hamilton, Peoria, Adirondack and wherever else. Searching for the proper analogy to describe his way of thinking in midst of a critical third pro season, Scrivens finally lands on baseball.
“What's your goal, a .300 average?” he asks rhetorically. “Well yeah that can be your goal, it can .350, .250, whatever it is, but you're not going into the game saying ‘Okay I've got to hit a home run in the second', you go into the game saying ‘I want to stretch out my at-bats, I want to be selective with my pitches, don't swing at the first pitch'. It's simple, but it's the only way that you can follow a plan is making it simple and repeatable.”
Scrivens is not the type to jot down goals on a sheet of paper, crossing them off upon completion at the end of the year. Instead, he's the one to lay all the puzzle pieces on the table, dissecting what patterns and strategies will be necessary to ‘make whole' the picture on the front of the box. “If you focus on the process then you're not readjusting your goals every time that you've achieved something,” he explained, sounding more like the author of a self-help book than a promising goaltender. “You look at it in hindsight as ‘Okay, that's what I accomplished and this is the way that I accomplished it so next year I'm going to focus on these things again and hopefully try and replicate and maybe become more consistent.'”
Admittedly “trying to minimize the valleys and maximize the peaks” Scrivens aspires for a more stable approach this season. A “huge proponent of a cyclical way of thinking” the 26-year-old believes less in luck than in logic and reality, confident that the breaks of the game will even out at some point. He's inclined to stream-line his focus from save to save rather than a scoped out set of big picture ambitions and clearly-defined objectives.
Watching the Alberta native up close over the past two seasons, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins is steeped in the pressure that surrounds his number one goaltender, the weight of repeating and even exceeding last year's success. But he's loath to run from it and insists upon the same from Scrivens. “Listen, I don't like limits on anyone,” said Eakins. “If you can run a six-minute mile, well let's go run a five-and-a-half mile. If you can climb a mountain that's 10,000 feet, go find one that's 12,000…I want these guys to push their limits. Even if he was MVP of the season last year and we would've won the championship, I want him to be better this year.”
After last season wrapped up, coach and goaltender conversed and ultimately concluded that Scrivens' league-leading goals against average (2.04) could have actually been lower. “It's something that our organization is very proud about and I'm proud of Ben individually for that and he should be proud as well,” said Eakins of the mark. “But we look back at the season and he went through about a four or five week-span where there was a bunch of goals he definitely wanted back. He could've been even lower there.”
After three starts this fall, Scrivens has allowed seven goals on 60 shots (.896 save percentage), winning once and losing twice. Drawing near in his rear-view mirror are back-ups Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya, the former posting a shutout in his first start of the season this past Saturday.
Scrivens won't consume himself with numbers and remains glued to the 'process', but after swimming in the NHL waters for 11 games with the Leafs last season, it's clear that his mindset has altered slightly from a year prior. With the lockout ongoing, however, his sights admittedly cannot stray past the next save with the Marlies. “Obviously this year would've been a different mind-set and a different approach for the season,” he said. “It would've been less of a set yourself up for a chance to get called up and more of a steal someone's job, not that it's available for the taking or it's going to be given to you. But I now have a little bit more experience at [the NHL] level and a few more accolades down here. I feel like I'm ready to make the jump and I've got to earn it at this point.”